Unlike George Jetson, we'll probably never push a button in our kitchens and have a freshly cooked meal spring up from the counter. But the next best thing might be opening the front door to find a week's worth of healthy family dinners waiting for you. That's the idea behind a new crop of meal-delivery services that are popping up online. Some deliver fresh food, others frozen. But they all claim to help you eat more nutritiously, avoid junk food and save hours of time. Do these meals taste any better than what you can find in your frozen-food aisle? And are they worth the extra money? We sampled four services and found that the surprising answer, in most cases, is "yes." A guide:
Healthychefcreations.com (entrees from $9.99; shipping outside Florida costs $49.99, so order several meals at once). Started by a former Disney World spa chef, this all-organic line of fresh meals is the tastiest—but most expensive—of the bunch. Lunch options include turkey and provolone on whole-wheat pita, with fresh apple slices and a mixed green salad ($9.95); dinners include a delicious, spicy Cuban chicken with black beans and rice ($13.95), as well as homey staples like meatloaf. One of the service's biggest boons is that it will work around any allergy or dietary restriction—even a desire to eat larger portions (entrees average 450 calories and 5 grams of fat, but you can pay more to eat 50 percent more). There's also a kids' menu ($7.95 per entree, with sides). Delivery charges will come down next month, when the company switches carriers.
Dinewise.com (from $5.99 per entree, plus shipping from $14.95). These were the only frozen meals we tried that didn't taste frozen. Each comes in a large, zip-locked freezer pack, with each course individually vacuum-sealed and labeled with nutritional information and prep instructions. It's important to read the labels: a favorite dinner, apple-cider pork loin with asparagus and corn fritters ($13.49) was delicious but weighed in at 755 calories and more than 39 grams of fat. The site also offers an enormous variety of meal plans to suit seniors, kids, diabetics and those watching their fat and sodium. The downside is that most dishes contain artificial ingredients but, these days, what doesn't? Overall, it's a good value.
Diettogo.com (from $24.99 for three dinners, plus $16.95 shipping). The company delivers fresh food locally (in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco) and ships frozen meals nationwide. Donna Thorne, 36, of Springfield, Va., credits the company's three-meal-a-day plan ($112.99 per week) with helping her lose 50 pounds after the birth of her son last year. Since going off the program, she's kept the weight off thanks to a new understanding of portion control. But the food quality was uneven. A grilled turkey, ham and cheese sandwich on French toast was melty and satisfying but came with an overvinegared mushroom-and-artichoke salad that defrosted into an unappetizing pool of liquid.
Zonechefs.com (from $375 per week for three meals and two snacks per day; free delivery). Based on Dr. Barry Sears's Zone diet, this service delivers fresh meals in the New York tristate area and throughout California, and frozen meals on a weekly basis nationwide. Local meals arrive daily on your doorstep in a soft cooler, with fresh flower petals inside each food tray. The breakfast of scrambled eggs with Cheddar and turkey sausage tasted great right out of the microwave. And the Middle Eastern lunch of hummus, fresh salad and pitas was equally delicious. But with such a large minimum order, it's for serious dieters only.